Reality Check: Providing Information

“Other people can neither make us miserable nor make us happy. All we can get from them or give to them is information.” At least, that’s what Dr. Wm. Glasser says in Choice Theory.
We exchange all kinds of information. We discuss prices with colleagues, gardening with neighbours, and values with advisors. In this unusual school year, parents may find themselves providing information on topics ranging from fractions to forests for their children. It’s all information. It flows, and it can add value for both the receiver and the provider. Ideally, that is.
If we take it as truth that what we give and receive is information, then we might also believe that the process should not be difficult.
Yet, if you’ve ever been tasked with providing help, training, or skill development, you may know that simply providing information doesn’t always deliver your hoped-for result. Reciting a list of facts is not necessarily very effective.
Here are three tips based on a Choice Theory approach that could help you make the information-giving process a little less stressful and a little more effective.
1. Build the environment. Some understand this as the need to establish rapport, while others could interpret it as recognizing the need to define expectations and guidelines.
In any case, people tend to be more receptive to information when they feel comfortable and safe. Few of us like to be embarrassed. (Although, in keeping with the spirit of Glasser, we know that I can’t make you feel embarrassed.) In any case, it will be a more effective interaction if everyone is confident that they will be treated with respect.
Environment-building can be formal or informal. A formal approach could start with groundrules or guidelines for how we will work together.
Because I respect people’s time and expect to receive the same respect from others, my personal guidelines always include “start on time; end on time.” Additional guidelines could be around interruptions, good will, and how to handle different views.
2. Know what you want, and know what your participants want. The broader Choice Theory principle is about getting to know the Quality World—the pictures that each of us have of what brings us satisfaction.
In this narrower, information-providing context, it’s important to know what your receiver wants. If you’ve asked me to teach you to knit because you want to create a simple scarf, then the approach I use may be different than if you want to make a fancy cable-knit sweater. Knowing what your “customer” wants makes it much easier to provide appropriately, And, that will be more satisfying for both of you.
3. Ask, rather than tell. It might seem counter-intuitive, but questions are often more effective for providing information than answers. Think of it as pulling information out, rather than pushing it in.
The questions, of course, depend on the task. But even for the simple knitted scarf, asking, “How do you think we’ll figure out the number of stitches?” will get your trainee thinking more actively than if you start by telling, “Cast on 50 stitches.”
When we know something really thoroughly, it can be puzzling when others have trouble catching on. It’s even worse if they get frustrated, anxious, upset, or don’t pay attention when you’re trying to impart your knowledge.
Yet providing information is a wonderful gift we give to each other. It’s worth the effort. Do you provide information? How does it work for you?

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